UC Berkeley to transition from Piazza to Ed Discussion over accessibility

Photo of Ed Discussion
Caroline Lobel/Staff
Campus will no longer license Piazza, instead choosing to utilize Ed Discussion as the online discussion platform for courses.

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Campus will transition from Piazza to Ed Discussion for online discussion forums in courses, according to an announcement from UC Berkeley Research, Teaching and Learning, or RTL.

After August, campus will no longer license Piazza following a recent request for proposal process that deemed Ed Discussion to have superior security, privacy, and accessibility, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. She added individual licensing of Piazza will also be prohibited to ensure equitable access to all students.

“Piazza, in its current state, doesn’t support the modern web standards that it needs to support folks who are primarily blind and low-vision, such as through screen readers or a keyboard instead of a mouse,” said campus EECS lecturer Michael Ball, who was a faculty evaluator of the tools.

The transition was originally supposed to take one year but was shortened due to these accessibility concerns, according to Ball.

Ball noted that this evaluation process is standard for campus tools, including Gradescope and bCourses, which have adapted in the past based on campus audits.

“Piazza has said they have been working on it, but it’s been years,” Ball said. “Ed has already been much more compliant with web standards necessary to support that work.”

To facilitate a smooth transition, Gilmore mentioned RTL will offer self-help options, virtual training for instructors, and individualized consultation for course staff and students.

Some classes have already piloted Ed Discussion over the past year, Ball said. Students on course staff who used Ed Discussion claimed the transition from Piazza came with a learning curve, but with adequate support and some time, came to feel like second nature.

“It took me half a semester to fully understand how to use the different features across Ed,” said campus teaching assistant Kunal Agarwal in an email. “By the end of the semester, I felt just as comfortable using Ed as I was using Piazza.”

Most people agreed that this transition will not have a significant impact on teaching after the initial learning curve. Campus public policy lecturer Larry Rosenthal said migrating to Ed will have a “non-zero” cost on him, but he is not extremely worried.

However, recent graduate Daniel Park noted his concern that the change will be difficult on older students and professors.

“Older … students will have to take some time to get used to Ed, which doesn’t help as it’s another distraction,” Park said in an email. “My concern is that the introduction of an entirely new platform may turn away even more instructors from using such a platform.”

Although some have reservations about Ed Discussion’s interface, Ball emphasized that Ed Discussion has spent a lot of time meeting with faculty and teaching assistants to receive feedback.

Additionally, Agarwal credited the Ed Discussion development team for being “superb” at communicating with course staff when they encounter bugs.

“If instructors take advantage of it, Ed integrates more nicely with bCourses and CalNet,” Ball said. “For most students going forward, the process of finding their classes and signing into Ed will be simpler than finding a course on Piazza.”

Contact Aileen Wu at [email protected], and follow them on Twitter at @aileenwu_.